2019/20 – Chapter Three. September 2019

At the end of last month I suggested that September may show us a little more of the direction Saints are heading this season after a difficult set of August fixtures and another summer of rebuilding at the club witnessed a whole host of changes including multiple signings close to the first league fixture of the season by Jim Goodwin.

Before a ball was kicked this month, games against newly promoted Ross County, Hamilton and a dreadful Hearts team looked on paper an opportunity to take somewhere between a minimum of five points and in all honesty nine, considering the latter two games were at Greenhill Road where Saints had only lost to Celtic and Rangers in the previous eight home matches.

Sometimes though, the football gods play their part and decisions made outside the control of any club will influence matches. In Scotland, the football gods are the SFA and SPFL, which if we were still in Greek of Roman times would be the gods of shameless incompetency and nepotism.

Following the astonishing performance of rookie referee Colin Steven against Livingston at the end of August where he showed levels of proficiency comparable only to an Alan Stubbs transfer window, most fans were probably looking forward to one of the, ahem, better referees such as Willie Collum or John Beaton (too far, I know) taking charge of our next match. We weren’t to be so lucky however, and for the second game in a row Steven was handed a Saints fixture.

Now, a few years ago I pointed out on these pages that the SFA seem to think we are fair game for their wee experiments when practically every demoted referee from the Premiership was put in charge of matches involving us in the Championship.

In five of the first eleven matches of the season we were promoted in 2017/18 Saints were handed high profile demoted referees who had ‘messed up’ against Celtic or Rangers and been subsequently hounded by the media. In these five matches we had three penalties and four sending offs against us, and also Steven McLean failed to send off Tam O’Ware and award Saints a late penalty during a 2-2 draw with Morton. In the other six matches, we had no penalties or red cards. But who cares, it is only St Mirren after all.

With the old firm, or the new old firm if you prefer, guaranteed “elite” referees every week the rest of us just have to put up with whoever the SFA have left and just accept it as that’s the way it has always been, like the national stadium having guaranteed dressing rooms and ends of the stadium for each old firm club. I mean, when is someone going to challenge that?

What I found most strange about Steven being appointed again to a Saints match is the fact most of the media highlighted how poor he had been during the Livingston match and usually a referee is NEVER handed the same team twice, simply as the previous performance is fresh in the mind and it is common sense to let any lingering grievances cool down.

Perhaps the SFA thought an international break would help cool tensions between Saints and the referee, but of course we have memories longer than a Gary MacKenzie jockstrap, and there was no chance we would forget, besides the performance of Steven was always likely to result in people asking “Who the fuck is this clown?”, to which the answer would inevitably be “That fanny from the Livingston match”.

Despite this appointment, around 500 Saints fans made the four hour journey to Dingwall, temporarily boosting the population of the Highland village by around 9% for the afternoon.

County of course have former Saints forward Ross Stewart up front and doing reasonably well, the big target man looking more suited to a club with no real expectation or support after appearing to be absolutely petrified playing for Saints a few years ago.

As it was guaranteed Stewart would score in the match as that’s what happens against us, we knew the first goal was essential, and looked to have grabbed it when after a dominant first half performance Jonathan Obika stabbed home a goal bound Sean McLouhglin effort from a yard. With Saints fans and players celebrating for a good ten seconds, the linesman bizarrely decided it was now offside and stuck his flag up presumably at the insistence of Colin Steven.

TV replays have since shown the original instincts of the linesman were correct and the goal should have stood (Yes they did, Mr Logue!) he was after all in line with play and knew this. Why the referee would overrule his linesman from his position in front of the play is frankly incredible, and the work of a rookie, which of course Colin Steven is. Who cares though, it is only St Mirren after all.

Early in the second half Stewart grabbed his inevitable goal, with Kirk Broadfoot making his second Saints debut after replacing the concussed Gary MacKenzie a few minutes earlier. This was a surprise development following his release from Kilmarnock, and the former Saints hero had a place on the bench after the even more surprising departure of Jack Baird to Morton on loan until January in what increasingly looks like the football equivalent of being sent to a gulag.

Saints once more dominated in the aftermath of this opening goal from County, with Kyle Magennis smashing the post to follow up his earlier first half effort against the crossbar on a day where nothing seemed to be going our way. That is until Tony Andreu’s tame long range free kick was spilled into the net by the County keeper with fifteen minutes remaining, and finally we had a bit of luck.

At this stage, Saints had comfortably been the better side, and although I missed the match due to Cairters Junior being unwell, the Alba re-run of the game clearly proved this.

However, deep into injury time Ross County captain Marcus Fraser won the match for the villagers and a point at the very least had been dropped by Saints. What made this winner worse was the fact Fraser should not have been on the park. In the first half he chopped Kyle Magennis down on the edge of the box, but referee Steven strangely mistook Ross Stewart for him and booked the big striker. A few minutes later, Fraser hauled Morias down and then punched the ball out of his hand preventing Saints from taking a free kick. Arguably two bookings in itself, but definitely one, and he was finally yellow carded which should have resulted in a red card had the referee known the difference between two different players. If only these pesky players had names and numbers on the back. Who cares though, it is only St Mirren after all.

At the end of the match Jim Goodwin remained calm, but clearly irritated by the performance of the referee. We had played reasonably well and been the better side, but points is what counts at the end of the match and the millionaire backed villagers had collected three against the run of play.

With Hamilton Accies at home next, Saints were looking at three points with anything less a serious disappointment. As we waited on the SFA referee tombola being spun to find out who we got for this match, the name of David Munro appeared next to our fixture, a new one for most of us as once more he is another untested referee.

Munro is slightly more experienced than Colin Steven who had took charge of just one Premiership fixture before his Saints double header, with the man in charge of this crucial match a veteran of FOUR top flight matches in his career. We are going up in the world, progress is finally being made.

Would this vast experience prove vital on the day and the players and fans be treated to a refereeing masterclass? Absolutely not. So what about a standard below par performance where the referee doesn’t seem to know what he is doing as we are used to every week? Nope, we didn’t even get that.

Mr Munro was simply abysmal and genuinely there will be better referees in the amateur ranks, but who cares though, it is only St Mirren after all.

From as early as the third minute when Kyle Magennis smashed the side netting, Hamilton began timewasting, in particular goalkeeper Owan Fon Williams who was taking anything between thirty and ninety seconds to take goal kicks. It was so bad, the crowd started slow clapping and booing after just twenty minutes, but still the referee let it go.

Accies are of course infamous for this and also other tactics such as pretending players are injured to break up momentum, and we were treated to this throughout a dreadful ninety minutes where Sam Stubbs, son of Alan, (last seen together on the front cover of 1994 Pink Floyd album, The Division Bell) became the first member of the Stubbs family to survive a game in Paisley with the entire crowd not baffled by his decision making.

Back to the referee, and with Saints ‘enjoying’ the vast majority of possession, Munro decided to help Accies by getting in the way as often as possible. The first occasion, merely seconds into the second half resulted in a pass deflected off the referee into the path of a Saints player which of course should result in the play stopping as per the well-publicised law change announced some six months before.

This incident confirmed what most of us thought however; the referee didn’t know the rules. Munro allowed play to continue with Hamilton players screaming at him in pursuit of the referee who was gleefully bouncing behind Tony Andreu like a young gazelle after the deflection landed at the Saints man’s feet and he tore towards the Accies goal.

A good five seconds later and clearly at the instruction of fourth official Willie Collum, the referee finally whistled for a drop ball. Maybe the voice of Collum put Munro off, after all it would be like the gates of hell itself had been opened if you had him repeatedly whispering “blow” down your earpiece, but I think even something that creepy though shouldn’t have made Munro forget a highly publicised law change.

Not content with that, Munro then got in the way twice more in the opening ten minutes of the second half, prompting Stewart Gilmour to correctly point out on twitter that the referee had more touches of the ball than Hladky in the second half, which although funny was a good point.

On another occasion, Munro’s positioning was so poor he blocked the route of a McLoughlin pass to Calum Waters who was clear on the left hand side, and with Munro not budging, the Saints centre half had to adjust his own position leading to the referee moving in tandem, blocking the route of the pass once again. Forced to go around the referee, McLoughlin attempted a curling dipping pass like an Andy Murray forehand, but the ball skidded out of play and the big defender could only stand with his arms out at in protest at the referee who was completely oblivious to his own shortcomings.

Munro had also red carded Accies striker George Oakley before this for a wild jump at McLoughlin (the only way I can really describe it) but this only led to even more timewasting from a Lanarkshire side that had as much urgency as the Daily Mail writing a critical story about Diana Spencer.

With Saints looking frankly lost in their efforts to break down Accies, the deadlock looked as though it was going to be broken when Sam Foley reacted quickest at a late corner kick scramble but substitute Jonathan Obika was in the way and blocked a certain winner, and the match ended goalless.

Despite the abysmal referring, it should be noted that most of the focus afterwards was very much on Saints failure to put Accies under any real pressure throughout the match, and the optimism of August was slowly ebbing away like the will to live when Kyle Hutton was playing for us.

In the week that followed, Jim Goodwin suggested that if inexperienced referees are good enough to referee a Saints top flight match then they are good enough to do it for the old firm also, which of course is completely correct but in the bizarre world of Scottish football this is not the practice as the SFA and SPFL believe the other forty clubs only exist to help improve the old firm and referees need to learn against the other clubs before being given a Celtic or Rangers match. And some fans of these clubs actually think they get a raw deal, incredible really.

Perhaps the SFA got the message, although I doubt they care so it was probably just luck, but for our next match against Hearts at Paisley the relatively experienced Andrew Dallas was appointed referee, a man who in absolutely no way has progressed through the ranks at the SFA due to his father being the former head of refereeing in Scotland, and his frankly astonishing elevation to grade one status in Scotland has been entirely on merit, and nothing to do with his influential father. Nothing at all.

To prove this natural refereeing ability, Dallas awarded four penalties to Rangers last season in their match against Saints, despite three of the fouls being outside the penalty box. Welcome to the mission, brother Andrew.

It had been well highlighted in the media that Hearts form since last October was so bad it would put them in a relegation position, but they had beaten Hibs and Aberdeen in the six days leading up to this match and confidence at Tynecastle was on the up. Perhaps drunk on his recent success, Craig Levein threw caution to the wind at the outset by opting for ONE up front and it was hoped that this outrageous attacking style would lead to a good match.

Unfortunately it was like watching the Hamilton match on repeat, with Dallas only slightly better than the two virgins we had the previous weeks. Saints were as toothless as Hearts, although thankfully not in the stands, and both sides created little during another poor match that ended 0-0. Tony Andreu had found the net in the first half and with the Saints players away celebrating towards W7, linesman and servile MP Douglas Ross flagged for offside a good seven seconds later. In this case, his tiny lizard brain just took time to react.

Despite this massive delay, outrageously Dallas allowed Hearts to take a quick free-kick with around six Saints players out of position, and although nothing came of it as Hearts are frankly terrible, you have to wonder what went through Dallas’ head to think that was acceptable. Probably him scoring the winning penalty for Rangers in the world cup final, a penalty he himself awarded for a foul outside the box where he overruled VAR to smash the ball into an empty net. That’s my theory.

Junior Morias had started up front again for Saints, but doesn’t look like a lone striker in truth. Obika and Mullen improved things slightly from the bench, but at the moment we look like a team with an excellent spine through to attack that no team is going to get it easy against, but lack both imagination and any cutting edge in the final third.

We do have a lot of new players however, some of whom were injured long term before signing so I am prepared to be patient. Most of the new signings arrived in early August, only seven weeks before the Hearts match so really in an ideal situation they would now be gearing up for competitive matches and the season starting as they were signed two months prior to this, a situation not possible due to manager position at the time.

I do believe it will happen though. Had Jonanthan Obika’s goal been allowed at Ross County, there is a good chance we would have won, and the following week only bad luck prevented him stopping Foley sealing three points. We could easily be on ten points right now if we had better referees and a bit of fortune.

Additionally, nobody has outplayed us. This time last year, Hamilton had beaten us 3-0 and Aberdeen destroyed us twice at Pittodrie. We are miles better just now; all we need is goals. Some experienced referees might also help.

Top October Ratings

Vaclav Hladky 7.3
Sam Foley 7.0
Kyle Magennis 7.0

Overall League Ratings

Sam Foley 7.7
Gary MacKenzie 7.6
Vaclav Hladky 7.4
Kyle Magennis 7.4

Overall Season Ratings (all competitions)

Sam Foley 7.7
Vaclav Hladky 7.4
Sean McLoughlin 7.1

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